Advice from The West Side…

Advice from The West Side…

Clayton Guiltner, Producing Artistic Director of the Grex Group Theatre, recently interviewed actor/dancer, Christopher Rice, who recently starred as Baby John and cover the role of Tony on the first Broadway National Tour of West Side Story!  Here’s the interview:

Christopher Rice performs in the Broadway touring production of West Side Story.

ClaytonAs an actor/dancer – how do you keep your performances/characterizations fresh, having to perform them week after week?

Christopher: This question has a 2 part answer. West Side Story is a really deep show and equally physically demanding. Let’s talk physical first. Eight shows a week we perform what is arguably some of the most iconic (and difficult) choreography of all time. Because of this, there is a lot of pressure to surpass the high expectations of patrons night after night. This results in a lot of wear and tear on your body. To physically maintain your body on the road, everyone has a different regimen. Personally, I go to the gym 5-6 times a week to lift weights, gain muscle, and maintain the physical body type the director and choreographer want. It is also important to work the muscles we neglect during the show. (Many of the Jet boy choreography is on the left side and our right legs are neglected. We must work those at the gym so we don’t walk lopsided.) Going to dance class is important because it helps us check in and realign our bodies. We must also roll out our muscles with a foam roller to prevent our knees from being pulled out of place by over or under-developed muscles and to prevent other similar injuries. I have done long runs before but I have never had the opportunity to do the same show hundreds of times. The key to keeping it fresh, for me, is listening. I know that sounds generic and perhaps a little “actory”, but it is true. There are times when you zone out in scenes unintentionally. It happens at times no matter how hard you fight it! Once you realize that you aren’t “in” the scene, it is necessary to get back in the moment fast. If you are listening to the new information your character is receiving, you are pulled back into the world of the show. Also, by continually listening you learn more about your character, other characters, the story, and how to best to tell the story.

Clayton:  What are some lessons you’ve learned about the art form after having traveled and performed the show time after time?

Christopher:  I have learned to pace myself. It is possible to be 100% commitment to a show and still do it in a way where you know you will have the physical and vocal stamina to do the show again later that night. It is a ‘science’… one that I have yet to master. However, I know it is important to constantly think about when doing a long run. When performing in a week or month-long run, it may be possible to throw yourself in full throttle and recover after closing. When you are doing a longer run, you need to figure out what works best for you. We do a ton of yelling in the show, so some days it is about using more breath and other days it is about letting the intention drive your vocal energy forward and outward.

Clayton:  How do you find that audiences differ from city to city? Do some shows play better than others, and how much does audience affect the show?

Christopher:  Audiences differ city to city more than I imagined they would. Thankfully we have been pretty packed in most cities, but the audience reactions vary. We’ve heard positive feedback all over, but in some venues the reactions are far more vocal than others. The coastal cities responded more vocally to the cruder jokes and gestures of the younger characters. When we have played in multiple Canadian cities, it is funny to note how they don’t laugh at certain American references and when patriotic themes are used for comedic purposes. Some cities use more audience member etiquette than others, but I guess that is expected for some of the smaller towns.

Christopher Rice performs in the Broadway touring production of West Side Story.

Clayton:  As a professional actor, what advice do you have for fellow actors working to have a career?

Christopher:  I have three things to say here. They may be reminders, but I feel they are important nonetheless! 1) Don’t give up. Many people told me I wouldn’t make it. If you hear similar feedback/opinions, just do them a favor and prove them wrong.   2) Go to the auditions. I never would have thought I would be prepared to be cast in such an intense show as West Side Story. Sometimes the casting directors see more in you than you do. You may be more prepared or right for the role than you think you are.  3) Be nice to everyone. You never know where you will be in the future and where they will be in the future. Be nice to work with. No one likes a diva and you might as well be likable! If you are nice and you do your job, people will want to work with you again in the future.

Clayton:  What are some of the biggest contributions the director / choreographer for West Side Story made that helped you shine as a performer?

Christopher:  The play’s author, Arthur Lawrence, who passed away just over a year ago, directed this production. This version of the show hosts quite a few of his changes to the original script. He chose to add a lot more Spanish to the production to create a higher level of authenticity for the Sharks in the show. Mr. Lawrence also eliminated some of the “Buddy-boy” and “Daddy-o” dialogue in hopes to remove some of the names and lines that came off as cutesy. The choreographer recreated the original Jerome Robbins Broadway choreography, which he learned from Mr. Robbins himself. There were minor shifts and changes, but 99% of the musical staging looked the same.

Christopher Rice

Final Thoughts:  It is an honor to be on this blog and I am thankful for anyone taking the time to read what I had to say. Best of luck to all of you and feel free to check in and see what I am up to on my website and twitter.  Thanks! Christopher Rice.